Salicylic acid belongs in the acne-fighting hall of fame, as it has a long history of being used topically to fight breakouts. Here’s what you need to know: it’s a BHA, or beta-hydroxy acid, that exfoliates the same way as AHAs, or alpha-hydroxy acids. However, it’s even more effective for treating acne due to its chemical make-up. Take it from board-certified dermatologist Dr. Geeta Yadav, “Because salicylic acid is oil-soluble, it can penetrate the skin at a deeper level and unclog pores of all the dirt, debris, and irritants that can cause acne—particularly blackheads and whiteheads.”
Although Dr. Yadav says salicylic acid is great for unclogging pores and promoting exfoliation, she cautions that it can be drying and irritating. Translation? Go easy and don’t overuse it.